Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Problems of Merging Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Be Wary of Exploitation by Christian Mediation via Spiritual Abuse

Before jumping into the topic, let's review some of the ideas already established in this series of posts before moving on to the abuse of trust and power by Christian mediation services.

In Review

     Forgiveness and reconciliation differ from one another, a topic addressed in this previous post. Both forgiveness and repentance involve grieving, and both take time. Fast forgiveness can actually work against healing and restoration through denial, just as much as bitterness can.

     Sometimes we come to an impasse with others because of safety or disagreement that we can't resolve, and the wisest choice for both parties involves separation. This can be accomplished peacefully in the same manner by which Paul and Barnabus parted. They could not agree and made different choices, but they affirmed one another in a spirit of respect before they went their separate ways. When we cannot reconcile with someone or cannot even negotiate what looks like forgiveness, we can look to God in faith to provide for us that which those who have offended us either cannot or will not provide to restore us. We can release our offenders to God to be both just and compassionate with them, but that can and sometimes wisely should mean separation.

     Christians can expect to experience some degree of conflict with one another. Given the number of admonishments to love, respect, and care for one another in Scripture, I think that it attests that conflicts do arise. We sharpen one another in the same way that iron sharpens iron, and we are admonished to deal with that conflict. Conflict itself is not sinful, neither does it necessarily result from sin.

     Many Bible-based or aberrant Christian groups outlaw interpersonal conflict in an attempt to achieve unity by enforcing uniformity. As this previous post describes well, many Christians have developed extra-Biblical rules for dealing with conflict by misinterpreting or twisting Scripture. They also suppress conflict through the abuse of forgiveness in the name of love, using shame to do it. Letting “love cover a multitude of sins” becomes an excuse to tolerate sin and abuse, and Christians even exploit Matthew Chapter 18, threatening the non-compliant with shunning as punishment. Following a pattern of what David Stoop describes in as a Path of Denial in forgiveness, Shepherding groups mistake uniformity for unity and force conformity on their members.

How Abusers Merge Forgiveness with Reconciliation to Manipulate

Peacemaker Ministries (PM), a Christian mediation organization founded by attorney and engineer Ken Sande, purports to help Christians resolve disagreements by keeping them out of the civil courts. This system and organization also makes many of the same assumptions that the Shepherding Discipleship Movement and men like Bill Gothard do about conflict. In keeping with Shepherding dogma, they even recommend the signing of covenants for church members and will provide churches with one if they do not have a covenant of their own (pdf download). Both systems suppress criticism and conflict through the God-required duty of relinquishing rights to an authority.

The following is an excerpt from an article that I wrote for the Wartburg Watch concerning the dangers and problems of improperly merging forgiveness with reconciliation, ensuring the merge by using using spiritually abusive techniques that have been borrowed from the Shepherding Discipleship Movement's hidden curriculum.

Along with a review of the differences between justification and sanctification, this material also explains how the authoritarian focused mindset that depends so heavily upon hierarchy can be exploited by “Christian mediation” programs.    Caveat emptor.

The Following Excerpted/Adapted from
(written by C. Kunsman, August 2011 for The Wartburg Watch)

Redefinition of the term “forgiveness”

In Chapter 10 of Ken Sande’s book “The Peacemaker,” the author does present a definition of aphiÄ“mi, the NT Greek word for “forgive” (to remit or release). However, he blends the definition of forgiveness with reconciliation and argues that Christians are not only required to release those who have sinned against them from the debt owed to them, they are also required to reconcile. In the context of the culture and the original language of the New Testament, the word forgiveness was a term that was usually applied to money. If someone owes you money and does not pay it, you have the right to go to them to demand what they owe you. If you forgive them that debt, you waive your rights to collect on the debt.

Reconciliation is a different word altogether, katallagē. This is also a term used to describe financial transactions, and it is very different from forgiving a debt. Reconciliation is a reckoning that the parties make, essentially wiping away the history of the debt. You start new books.

Consider that you go to market and pay $1 for a pound of meal. You get home, and you realize that you’ve only been given half of a pound. It is your right to go back to that vendor and demand that they either give you half a buck back or give you a half pound of meal. When you forgive that debt, you agree to not demand anything of that vendor. You just let it go.

When you go back to the vendor again, what happens if they repeat this error and fail to take responsibility for their error? You may again decide that you will forgive the vendor, releasing your right to go back to demand justice. But consider that when you need more meal, are you going to go back to this same vendor to do business, or are you going to take your business somewhere else?

If you were wronged and decided to reconcile with this vendor (above and beyond forgiveness of debt), that is a decision to forget that any wrong was ever done, and you affirm them as a legitimate party who has done right by you. You agree contractually to go do business with them, behaving as though they’d never cheated you before.

Paul did not declare the Gospel of Forgiveness to us in 2 Corinthians 5. He declared the Gospel of Reconciliation to us, a far more powerful act. Forgiveness means that we don’t have to pay the debt we owe. Reconciliation means that Jesus pays our debt and declares us righteous before God, and then He goes to prison for us, too. We get His righteousness and He gets our sin, and then by the power of His Blood, He wipes those sins off the books. That is far more than just forgiving a debt but is atonement, expiation, and a complete extinguishing of the wrong.  The Father looks at us and sees the Blood of Jesus and declares us in right standing with Him, though we are guilty and though Christ paid the penalty.

God requires us to forgive our enemies, but He does not require us to reconcile if there is no repentance, contrition, or trust.

Peacemaker Ministries' Merging Forgiveness with Reconciliation

PM redefines forgiveness and merges it with reconciliation, describing “forgiveness as a decision to make four promises”:
     1.  I will not dwell on this incident.
     2.  I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
     3.  I will not talk to others about this incident.
     4.  I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

I have no problem with points 1 & 2 if forgiveness has occurred. I do have a problem with points 3 & 4 which define reconciliation and are not required for forgiveness.
If your child was molested, you can forgive the offender, but is it right to never talk about the incident with others or to be required to have intimate contact or unhindered contact with the offender? Sometimes peace is maintained by avoidance, a measure that resists the development of strife. Should your child be forbidden to work through the long lasting and profound effects that the incident created for them and for their safety and also be forced to spend time with the offender? That’s appropriate? It is if you’ve been following shepherding and were raised to believe that this is proper conduct and what the Bible demands of a Christian.

Promotion of an Inequitable Balance of Power

In the event of a conflict between church leaders and a 'rank and file' parishioner, the previously stated concern over the church's interest in “reducing exposure to legal liability” suggests and predicates an inequitable balance of power. The parishioner has already agreed to relinquish some rights and privileges which might allow them legal recourse in the event of legitimate mistreatment.

More specifically, parishioners are required to sign a commitment to church discipline and submission to church leadership in their Covenant when they join and again when they agree to use the conflict resolution services of PM. In an ideal situation when leadership is well qualified and legitimate, this system should work well. But not all situations are ideal, particularly the volatile ones. What if your leader is corrupt or has repeatedly refused to deal with your situation appropriately? What if they are lacking in true moral character and the PM mediator does not recognize your concerns?

With the added weight of the requirement to commit to PM's system when using their services in a conflict, the preference for leadership automatically creates an inequitable balance of power which favors leadership. If a pastor or a favored member of a congregation abuses a member, the leader already holds an upper hand over that member. It is quite easy, without any kind of formal commitment on their behalf, for the leadership to exploit their position to get what they want and to cover their errors. How more powerful do they become if the member is also asked to sign a formal commitment which guarantees their submission to their church authority? Does that balance power to provide the opportunity for the member to find justice or does it stack the power against them? Does not the benefit of the doubt formally fall to the church leadership?

Commitment to Accept PM's Paradigm, Principles, and Decisions

Complexity of the Paradigm. It is certainly important to commit to resolve conflict amicably, especially among Christians who are in disagreement; however, just a cursory review of the myriad of documents and statements and principles on the PM website alone is quite overwhelming. Imagine the burden of a layperson who must review such information while under the duress resulting from a personal conflict with your church. The purpose of the group involves resolution of conflict to avoid legal recourse but with legal recourse as a tool that the mediators take into consideration from the beginning of their intervention. Given all of the documents and books and other materials, should a layperson employ their own attorney to help them?

Control of Milieu and Criticism.  One of the foundational principles of the PM model that can be found in “The Four Promises of Forgiveness” states that those involved in PM intervention will never talk to others about the incident. The paradigm deems discussion of such matters to be gossip and against Christian principle when discussion of certain matters may be highly appropriate.

I know a pastor who became so angry at a church member that he picked up a metal chair and hurled it at her (about 5 feet to the side of her), with such force that it broke the chair and damaged the drywall. If your child was molested by a teenager who often works for many families in your congregation as a babysitter, should that matter not be discussed among those others who place their children in the care of this teen? Under such circumstances involving a lack of character which disqualifies a church leader from their position or a situation that threatens the safety of lambs, should such matters really be kept private? Should church members be sworn to silence regarding these types of events?

Option to Declare Others Unbelievers to have the Option to Sue

Despite the safeguards of principles and commitments and covenants, the PM paradigm does not also require a blanket commitment to the principle of 1 Corinthians 6 which requires Christians to handle their disagreements outside of civil court. In the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, Appendix D lists several conditions that Sande believes satisfy a Christian's right to take another Christian to court. 

Page 282 states that “if your opponent still refuses to cooperate [with church discipline measures], and if these advisors conclude that your opponent is behaving 'as a nonbeliever' and that your action is worth pursing, you may be able to proceed with a lawsuit.” This tactic is well known within Reformed homeschooling circles as a means of keeping controversy quiet and threatening others into compliance through not only legal threats but through archaic and legalistic ecclesial court procedures wherein individuals are deemed nonbelievers and discharged from their churches.  [If you're stooping to such means, what does this have to do with forgiveness or reconciliation?]

How simple would it be for someone in leadership at a church use their influence to declare a problematic member a nonbeliever? Is it not ironic that in the early process of negotiations, parties must commit to certain rigid principles and standards of conduct, but in the end, parties are also afforded the option to abandon the proceedings? I've known of several incidences where manipulators used the PM process to not only silence critics, but to also play out the statute of limitations so that it became impossible to pursue legal action anyway.

Please also note that the requirement to seek the advisors within the one's church to gain permission to pursue legal action found in Sande's book suggests a Shepherding Discipleship style model of ecclesiocentricity (priestcraft). Is it necessary for a church member to submit such decisions to church leaders to deem an action “worth pursuing” for permission to follow a course of action? In that case, are these church leaders advisors, or are they paternalistic overseers?


Peacemaker Ministries follows a model which requires that all who participate to surrender to what is much like what Robert Lifton described as the Sacred Science: no leader can ever be wrong, and neither can their application of a leader's doctrine because PM's model prefers leadership as an a priori consideration. The group also demands perfection and purity from participants, and a willingness to assume blame, even if there may be no blame to assume. As Kris of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) Survivors pointed out in her open letter to Ken Sande, SGM has historically favored the manipulative practices that were and are common within the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement and their overt focus on submission doctrine, factors which the PM principles seem to magnify. Any problem suffered by a church member is assumed to be ultimately created by that church member who must bear the stigma of failure and sin, usually through some lack of submission or failed compliance with unwritten and unofficial cultural demands and expectations. The initial commitments required PM puts a heaver weight of value on the virtuous and lofty end of the global mission of the local church which seems to bear more weight than the needs of any one individual.

One must also understand the shame-based culture of SGM. The principles of PM may work within a healthy church that does not capitalize on shame and does not use heavy-handed means to control communication within the group. One must understand the connotation and the loaded language which creates informal double messages and moral imperatives for those who are members.

Rise to the challenge and compare the practices of both SGM and PM to David Henke's model of Spiritual Abuse. Decide for yourself whether the paradigms employed by both groups correspond to the characteristics of spiritually abusive systems and the behaviors of their leadership.
  • Authoritarian: Over-emphasis on authority, submission, and chain of command and anointed leaders assume the right to command members because of their special identity and their relationship with God
  • Image Conscious: Appearances validate members' and the group's specialness to God which creates a sense of elitism within the group
  • Suppresses Criticism: Questioning doctrine and leadership are forbidden and punished
  • Perfectionistic: Performance and conformity to group expectations and norms is rewarded while noncompliance is punished
  • Unbalanced: Group majors on minor doctrines, displacing central and core Christian beliefs which become secondary to the pet doctrines and interests of the group


More posts to follow concerning
forgiving the Church, God, and ourselves.